March 27

1625 Accession of Charles I

There are good kings and bad kings. And then there are disastrous kings, ones who provoke discord in their own country, engender civil war, lose their heads, and bring down an entire monarchy with them. Such a one was Charles Stuart (1600-49), the first of that name to rule Scotland, Ireland, and England.

Charles was born a Scottish prince, a younger son with no great prospects, child of  James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. In 1603, the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, died without issue, and James succeeded her on the throne of that much richer country to the south. It was expected that his heir would be his oldest son, Henry (b. 1594) who was popular and trained for the job, but the young man died of typhoid in 1612, leaving shy, stammering Charles as the future ruler of three kingdoms.

Charles’s father was not the best man from whom to learn the arts of ruling. James constantly quarrelled with his political class, showed little interest in military affairs, and allowed policy to be guided by a number of homosexual lovers. From him, Charles seems to have imbibed a contempt for Parliament, and a stubborn streak that would prove fatal. Parliament, always fearful of a return of Catholic influence, demanded that the prince be given a safely Protestant bride but Charles, aided by the Duke of Buckingham, James’s paramour, unwisely courted the daughter of the King of Spain and received a humiliating rebuff. Stung by this personal insult, Charles demanded that his father declare war on Spain.

When James died in early 1625, the new king unwisely chose another Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria of France. It was the first of a series of mistakes that would lead Charles to the block, his queen and her sons to exile, and England to a republic.

It must be said that there are fans of Charles, including a loyal reader of this blog, who would remind us that Charles is viewed as a martyr and a saint by the Church of England. 

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